The current administration wrangles at Express FC remind me of a similar period in the early 80s when the club was in total management disarray.
So, if all the warring parties claiming leadership truly love Express at heart, they need to revive the spirit of Patrick ‘Uncle Pat’ Kiwanuka Bukenya, a modest gentleman who rose through the club ranks to become a unifying figure and lay the foundation of silverware.
When Express returned to topflight football in May 1979 after a two-year lull imposed by Lt Col Nasur Abdallah, several club faithful regrouped and came out to lend a hand in the running of the club. At the time, the club lacked structures from the grassroots and heavily relied on a few loaded fans. It was clear Express didn’t have a proper direction.
It didn’t help matters in 1980 when club chairman Sam Kalega Njuba fled to exile. The absence of an outright leader coupled with poor results in the league created a vacuum that some club fanatics exploited to dictate matters.
On April 21, 1981, irate fans led by Livingstone Muwanga (RIP) aka Sgt Doe stormed the club’s training ground at Wembley (Formerly Kyaggwe Road primary school playground now housing Mukwano mall) and announced the removal of the entire club executive, including coach John Dibya.
The group appointed Jimmy Mugambe Kiwanuka (son of club founder Joseph ‘Jolly Joe’ Kiwanuka) to head the interim committee. The committee was given six months to arrange elections and in December 1981, Mugambe was formally elected chairman.
He named Patrick Kiwanuka [no relation] as vice chairman, Ernest Kabugo (secretary), Hajji Kassim Mpanga (treasurer), Hajji Abdul Mawejje (Team Manager) and Henry Buyego as coach. The new executive swung into action by recruiting the country’s top players such as Issa Sekatawa, Fred Mukasa, Dan Lutalo, Jimmy Muguwa, Patrick Kigongo, George Serunjogi, James Nkoyoyo Kiwanuka and Jack Ntale.
Despite the heavy investment, however, coach George Mukasa’s charges failed to win any silverware.
Principled like his father, Mugambe was a hands-on man but to many club supporters, he came off as an arrogant fellow.
This won him many enemies and failure to win any silverware exacerbated the situation by alienating him from the fans. Several cliques cropped up to fight him and some threatened to break away if he continued as leader.
So, when his four-year term expired and fans demanded elections, Mugambe initially objected to suggestion but mounting pressure forced him to call a general assembly on February 3, 1985. Express supporters trooped in their hundreds to Wembley for the event.
Kiwanuka takes over
In the meeting, it didn’t occur to Mugambe that anything extraordinary was in the offing; Mugambe and his entire executive, including Kiwanuka, were there in apparent harmony. But when he sensed someone may stand against him, Mugambe declared the meeting unconstitutional and walked out in protest.
Ironically, that simply facilitated his easy removal from office and made Kiwanuka’s ascension to Express throne a downhill task. Kiwanuka won with whopping 385 compared to Mugambe’s 18.
Kiwanuka named a strong executive with the majority survivors of Mugambe’s administration including new No. 2 Vincent Bbale Mugera. Others included Kassim Mpanga, Kabugo, Peter Mbeera, Sam Senyondo, Fred Iga, Hajji Abdul Kasujja, Hajji Kaddu Serunkuma, Katabalwa Miiro, Edward Mugerwa, Sempande Semakula, Vincent Mulindwa and Hajji Magid Bbosa, among others.
For Kiwanuka, an accomplished insurance executive, this was a fulfillment of years of dedicated loyalty to the club. He started supporting the team while at Mengo SS in the late 1960s until he moved to the club executive in the mid-1970s. Even when the club was banned in 1977, Kiwanuka refused to join the bandwagon that created SC Villa.
For Mugambe, he refused to recognize Kiwanuka’s executive and maintained in the media that he was still the rightful Express chairman. But instead of hitting back, Kiwanuka sought a different path to bringing back Mugambe on board.
He tactfully shied away from media inquiries but sought direct talks with Mugambe. Behind the scenes, the dispute was eventually settled amicably in a roundtable meeting presided over by lawyer Peter Mulira, the club legal advisor.
Mugambe and Kiwanuka issued a joint statement, legalizing the latter as club chairman. Mugambe also committed himself to working harmoniously for promotion of the club interests. With the club’s newfound harmony, Express won the 1985 Uganda Cup and narrowly missed out on a double when KCC pipped them to the league title on goal-difference.
Kiwanuka’s wisdom to resolve the matter prompted local media to tag him ‘Uncle Brilliant’ while others simple called him ‘Uncle Pat.’ In 1986, the Kiwanuka administration was shaken when influential former team manager, Hajji Abdul Kasujja, quit the Red Eagles to form his own KK Cosmos.
Once again, Kiwanuka engaged Kasujja in several meetings and after three years, Kasujja disbanded his team and returned to Express. He also extended his good leadership to Bika football where he managed the Ngabi clan to the 1987 Bika by’Abaganda shield.
Apart from his big pockets, Kiwanuka was blessed with a rare power of persuasion. He wooed several club supporters who boosted the club coffers in order to catch-up with big-spending SC Villa.
Kiwanuka was also a visionary; he bought land at Kanyanya and designated it to become the club’s home ground.
Despite being one of the richest people in the country with interests ranging from insurance to banking, Kiwanuka was a down-to-earth person and never showed off in public. You would be hard-pressed to identify him in a crowd because his style of leadership was built around involving everyone.
His love for football had no boundaries and he freely mingled with everyone irrespective of club affiliation to the extent of financially funding some clubs.
Yet, much as he was humble, Kiwanuka was sometimes tough. When the club posted poor results in the continental clubs championship in 1989, Kiwanuka dissolved the entire team and ordered the players to reapply, which they complied and the club went back to winning ways.
On the fateful day of June 11, 1989, Kiwanuka attended Express’ training session at Kanyanya, after which he headed for an Airlines FC fundraising in Entebbe with team manager Edward Mugerwa. On their way back, however, their saloon car rammed into a pickup that had no headlights.
Kiwanuka died on the spot while Mugerwa died on his way to Nsambya hospital. The news of Kiwanuka’s death paralysed the city but most worryingly, his demise left a huge void in Ugandan football.
He was just 42 years. With such a solid foundation he had built for the club, Vincent Bbale Mugera took over the mantle, guiding the club to the pinnacle of Ugandan football on three occasions before he threw in the towel to end the revolution he started with Kiwanuka.
Express has never been the same since and if only the warring parties took a leaf from Kiwanuka’s vision, the once-mighty Red Eagles could be resurrected.
The author is Director Marketing & Promotions of The Observer Media Ltd.